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South African park rangers jailed over links to poaching

Two former Kruger National Park rangers have been sentenced to seven years in prison each for poaching-related crimes, according to South Africa’s prosecuting authority.

Hendrick Experience Silinda, 31, and Achieve Musa Mlambo, 38, who were employed by the South African National Parks (SANparks) at the time of their arrest, were sentenced in the Skukuza regional court in Mpumalanga province.

On 26 February 2019, the pair were on duty when regional rangers received information that poachers were going to enter the Kruger National Park, with the assistance of the Skukuza rangers, prosecuting officials said.

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Following the tip-off, authorities found the accused pair in possession of a hunting rifle, live ammunition, a silencer, and three hunting knives.

Ballistics evidence showed that the rifle was not from SANparks, suggesting it was brought in to assist the poachers.

SANparks spokesperson Isaac Phaahla told the BBC that this was the second conviction involving Kruger Park staff.

The first one was last year – relating to a 2017 case – involving a now ex-ranger. He was sentenced to 17 years behind bars.

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In the latest case, both men have maintained their innocence. In court they pleaded not guilty and said they were framed but provided no evidence of this.

Poaching is a pernicious problem in South Africa’s wildlife parks.

Organised syndicates from South Africa and neighbouring countries are said to be involved in the lucrative illegal trade of rhino horn – often smuggled to Asia, according to special crimes investigators.

Mr Phaahla said there were a number of cases before the courts involving their staff but finalising them can take years due to postponements or suspects changing lawyers.

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He added that about six Kruger staff members were currently on trial in different cases relating to poaching crimes.

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